Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil 2:1-4 NASB, emphasis added).
You’ll notice that Paul makes four statements introduced by the word if. Each statement appeals to the Philippians’ experience of being part of the Christian family.
Believers are (1) encouraged in Christ, (2) consoled by Christ's love for us, (3) united in the shared experience of the fellowship of the Spirit, and (4) characterized by affection and compassion for each other.
That brought joy to Paul. He not only wanted to plant churches around the known world but also wanted to see them grow to spiritual maturity. But one of the greatest enemies of growth is divisiveness, so Paul urged them to make his joy complete by having the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
That sounds wonderful, but how can a community achieve and maintain that kind of unity? How can they avoid the bickering and divisiveness common in, among, and between churches?
One way is to reject egoism and individualism and start thinking about the common good of the whole community. While the world acts selfishly, Paul urged the Philippians to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit. Someone acts selfishly when he thinks he’s the most important person in the room and regards others as mere means to achieve his personal goals. When that’s your attitude, you can’t have a loving relationship with others the way the Christian community is meant to be. Instead of selfish individualism, Christians should humbly consider one another more important than yourselves. The Greeks did not consider humility a virtue because it had the connotation of “servility”—part of the mindset of the low-born or slaves (Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, p. 89).
But the believer should humbly consider other people more important than himself.
Although every human being is intrinsically valuable, as a matter of Christian love, you should consider other people more important than you. That’s not a natural attitude, I know. It’s a spiritual one.
Paul doesn’t mean you should never think about how something affects you. He means that shouldn’t be your only concern. Instead, it would be best to ask how your actions affect others, especially in the believing community. When you consider others as more important than yourself, you won’t merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Parents know what this is like. When we choose to do something, we also consider how our actions affect our spouse and children. We think of the good of the whole family, not just of ourselves. You should take the same attitude towards the church and consider how your actions will affect other people, and sacrificially put their good ahead of your own.
Thinking of other people’s joy has a strange way of making your joy complete.
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.